In Blog: Factually Speaking

As Black History Month comes to a close, we asked our staff an important question: How will you continue celebrating Black history in 2020?

Dwayne Barnes, Community Engagement Specialist

Each February we celebrate the contributions of African Americans to our society. Typically, we celebrate the artistic, athletic and cultural contributions but we forget about the economic, political and technological achievements that African Americans have made here in America and through the world.

I would like to honor Fabian Elliott, CEO and co-founder of Black Tech Mecca, a technology think tank in Chicago that provides data, research, and advocacy in the urban tech space. Black Tech Mecca’s mission is to inspire the development of thriving Black Tech Ecosystems to ensure Black people are full participants in the global technology sector.

This young man is making history in the black tech space and deserves some shine during Black History Month.

Amber Bellazaire, Health Policy Analyst

I love to visit museums and watch documentaries, but my favorite way to learn about and celebrate history is to read about it. Black Ink is an incredible book of essays by a range of black American writers, thinkers and poets. The compilation includes essays from Frederick Douglass to Roxane Gay. I enjoyed and would recommend the book because it reveals the diversity of thought within the black community and how profound it is to have such brilliance within a community once forbidden to learn to read.

Brandon Betz, Tax Policy Analyst

Dial into your local Black Lives Matter Chapter. Black history is inseparably connected to grassroots activism. Only a few names have percolated into our historical record; for every Black activist we learn about in our studies, there were thousands who stood up to fight for equity and justice. The work is not over—Black Lives Matter is at the forefront of direct action and organization of people of color throughout the United States. Instead of hiding behind the work that has already been accomplished, we need to fight the current inequities that plague society head-on. Continued direct action, activism, and militancy, I think, is what the Black leaders of the past wanted as their legacy.

Julie Cassidy, Senior Policy Analyst

We can celebrate Black history all year long by being intentional with our charitable giving choices. Black-led organizations like BMe CommunityBlack Girls CodeGirlTrekOutdoor Afro and Mothering Justice cultivate today’s history makers through education, health, innovation, leadership and community. Supporting them with your individual donations and philanthropic dollars at any time of the year moves us closer to solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

Karen Holcomb-Merrill, Chief Operations Officer

It’s a shame that Black History Month is the shortest month of the year, even this year, a Leap Year. With all good intentions, I printed off this list of 10 must-read books for Black History Month. What an interesting and varied list of books written by black authors. Needless to say, I didn’t get to all 10 books during this shortest month of the year. But I’m hanging on to the list, with the hopes of extending Black History Month and its celebrations through the rest of the year!

Parker James, Kids Count Policy Analyst

To keep celebrating Black history, we can continue to learn about and uplift Black voices where we live. This month the Kalamazoo Public Library has been featuring African Americans past and present from Kalamazoo and their contributions. I’ve enjoyed reading about librarian Alma Powell, professor Dr. Romeo Phillips and the Motown-famous Velvelettes! The library even has a Velvelettes anthology to borrow, which is a must-listen for any music fan. Thankful for this resource and many others made publicly available through the library to help us learn about and celebrate local Black history all year round.

Emily Jorgensen, Communications Assistant

I’m so grateful to be part of a team that prioritizes the internal and external work that is required to advance racial equity. I’ve already learned so much in my first few months here, so my celebration throughout 2020 will be to continue that work. I’m going to take our 21-Day Challenge again to expand my knowledge and self-reflect, and I’m going to continue listening to the podcasts, watching the videos, and reading the books recommended on our Racial Equity page. There is so much to learn and incorporate into my daily life and into the choices I make, and I will do so with an open heart and desire for true change.

Laura Ross, Communications Director

As someone who once taught history, I’ve seen firsthand the need to promote Black history. The textbooks most schools use always have a section in each chapter labeled something like, “Other groups saw struggles during the Great Depression” or “Other Americans work to support war effort” or “African Americans also contribute to 1920’s art.”  From what I’ve seen, Black Americans are still treated in these textbooks as an afterthought—an addendum. This year, I’m going to work on reviewing the texts that are used in the school district where I live, and work on influencing the decisions that are made there. The best way to make sure that happens? Make sure there are Black leaders, teachers—start hiring them, schools—parents and stakeholders at the decision making table.

Alex Rossman, External Affairs Director

As an aspiring writer as a kid, I remember being particularly drawn to Langston Hughes’ poetry. Reading his work in the midst of traditional school learning about Black history, slavery, the Civil War, the civil rights movement and more helped add a layer of emotional connection, context and empathy. Continuing my love of words and desire to better connect with Black culture, and growing up at the same time that hip hop was coming up, I fell in love with that music. The vivid lyricism painted pictures of the Black experience and opened my eyes to issues I might not have otherwise been aware of, and it continues to be one of the best ways for me to connect with Black culture. At every age and stage of my life, hip hop has always made me feel like I am getting a firsthand perspective on the political and racial issues of the times. I encourage everyone to explore the genre, and I’ll also offer a friendly tip that most music streaming services also carry content from authors and spoken word artists, including Langston Hughes.

Peter Ruark, Senior Policy Analyst

One of the best ways I have developed a personal connection over the years with Black history is when I listen to music from the civil rights era and the period of activism that immediately followed. As a White man, music builds a bridge of empathy between myself and the struggles of those with very different lived experiences. Anyone interested can check out my playlist, “Soul Music for Social Change 1963-1974” that captures some of my favorite socially conscious music from that period.

Simon Marshall-Shah, State Policy Fellow

Black History Month is about engaging with and celebrating Black success – in our country’s history, culture and policy. To keep celebrating in 2020, we can continue this work by intentionally selecting some of the authors and creators (and chefs!) of what we consume. For example, if you’re a reader, read books by Black authors and thinkers; if you’re a commuter, listen to podcasts by Black creators; if you’re a foodie, eat at Black-owned restaurants; and if you’re a history buff, visit museums dedicated to Black history and leadership. Plus, this can serve as a way to celebrate and learn while also lending financial support. As with all values, putting our money where our mouth is can speak volumes and contribute to the ethos of Black History Month beyond the month of February.

Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count Project Director

Black history is both past and present. I celebrate this and every month by paying homage to those who came before me, recognize the giants that walk amongst us and serve to benefit those who live after me.

One of my favorite Black leaders is Shirley Chisholm. She was the first Black woman to be elected to the US Congress and later became the first Black candidate to secure a major party’s nomination for president. In announcing her bid, Chisholm said, “I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”

A woman who had “no intention of just sitting quietly and observing”, a photo of her famous 2008 portrait hung in the hallway of a row house I shared in DC during college. Even back then, she inspired our house full of change agents: future lawyers, policy makers, researchers and community leaders.

Black people, women and all of America stand on Chisholm’s shoulders. She was an amazing leader and I encourage anyone who isn’t familiar with her story to look her up! Happy Black History Month!

Jayme Vosovic, Community Engagement Specialist

To keep celebrating Black History Month in 2020, we need to look no further than in our own communities to see the contributions and talent that Black people have and continue to give to us. In West Michigan, while there are many examples of Black excellence, one name I want to lift up is Shannon Cohen, co-founder of Sisters Who Lead. “Sisters Who Lead has been a foremost voice in data collection from women of color to gauge growth, trends, and needs connected to attracting, retaining and promoting women of color in the West Michigan talent pathways.” Ms. Cohen, along with her other co-founder, Patricia Sosa Verduin, and the leadership team, have not only reminded us women of color that we are talented—almost 60% of us have advanced degrees—but that the old mantra of “we can’t find qualified, diverse candidates ready to lead” is garbage.

I encourage all of us and especially those institutional leaders—from CEOs to HR Directors to Managers—to examine the study From Knowing Better to Doing Better: Closing the Opportunity Gap for Women of Color in the Workplace through Transformed Systems Behavior and embrace the recommendations. If we do not seek to close this gap, we are missing out on further economic prosperity for our communities, as “women of color are a force in the U.S. economy…generat(ing) $1 trillion as consumers and $361 billion in revenue as entrepreneurs, launching companies at 4x the rate of all woman-owned businesses.” Thank you Shannon for continuing the work of our ancestors and bringing to light all that women of color have to offer.

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